The events of the First Waves Johnstown program in July of 2018 imbued a sense of urgency and amplified passion for everyone in attendance. A pollution event upstream of the program site resulted in water that was too tarnished to proceed with the paddleboarding and whitewater activities for local teens. Students that wouldn’t otherwise have the means or opportunities to experience the river were on deck for their first paddling experiences. Instead, they focused on the other aspect of the First Waves workshop – filmmaking. They learned to document what they were experiencing and create a film that could influence others to take an interest in watershed conservation. Their film, Upstream, does exactly that.
When it comes to reporting on environmental topics in Western Pennsylvania, the Allegheny Front radio show is the frontrunner. Naturally, we were ecstatic when digital editor, Andy Kubis, came to cover a First Waves river surfing and filmmaking workshop last July. What she witnessed, however, was a foreboding account of why watershed protection is so vital. As the river turned black before our eyes, there was only one thing for us to do – document the event to instill the urgency of action needed.
Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer lies on the shores of what is arguably the finest venue for whitewater paddleboard instruction in Pennsylvania. Connoquenessing Creek, known locally as “the Connie,” boasts miles of class I to III rapids, and a river wave as smooth as glass after a good rain. The camp itself is a stunning sprawl of wooded acreage and beautiful log cabins. While the whitewater and facilities are ideal, the Connie does have a darker side. Not long ago, it was considered one of the most polluted waterways in the Country, and still faces many environmental challenges. To illustrate the opportunities presented by the stream, along with solutions for conservation and education for youth, First Waves’ partnered with the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer for an inaugural residency expedition to the creek.
At first glance, a group of teens yielding camera equipment and various electronics around water seems like a bad idea. Now, incorporate the instability of standup paddleboards, whitewater rapids, and the goal of scooping up every piece of trash we float by! “A recipe for catastrophe,” some will crow. At First Waves, our eyes bulge and mouths water at this morsel of contrast, challenge, and adventure.
First Waves is all about adventure. Learning to perform outside your comfort zone is what enables participants to grow, and inspire others. But like any proper adventure, there are obstacles to overcome. For First Waves, one of these obstacles are the rocks that surround the waves and rapids we surf and document. To stay protected, First Waves is proud to announce its latest partner, G-Form Protection.